The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Thought Leader

Posted : January 25, 2021

Word Count: 3259 

( 9 Min )

In this day and age, it appears that every entrepreneur, marketer and publisher wants to know how to become a thought leader.
The advantages of being seen as one reads like a recipe for true happiness.

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Attention
  • Prestige

It should work wonders for sales of whatever product or service you’re trying to sell too. So let’s add a fifth bullet…

  • BIG Money

Today It’s easier to become a thought leader than ever. Anyone with a Twitter account could potentially share their opinions with millions of people. There are roughly 6,000 tweets posted every second and around 7 million blog posts published every day.

Yet, despite everyone’s best efforts to be heard, I could think of a handful of examples of people who I considered true thought leaders in the niches I follow.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It means most people are doing something wrong. In this post, we’ll explore what it means to be a thought leader, how to become a thought leader, and the steps YOU can take to achieve it.

Thought Leader

What is a Thought Leader?

A thought leader is seen as someone who is most successful in their respective fields. This individual is one of the foremost authorities in their selected areas of specialization, which results in them being the go-to person for said expertise. 

If your role has you responsible for driving the reputation and growth of your business, a solid grasp of how SEO works is critical to your success. Even if you have the luxury of having an SEO specialist working in house, it’s important to understand how their efforts fit into an omni-channel strategy.

Of course, SEO is rarely black and white. There’s a lot of theorizing and opinions, as Google doesn’t reveal the finer details of its search algorithm.

Yet, with so many opinions being shared online, who are we supposed to listen to?

I have been following Brian Dean, CEO of Backlinko for years now, his email marketing strategies and content surrounding SEO consistently blows me away. Dean is well known for publishing insanely practical strategies that marketers can use to grow their online business. We asked Dean about how he thinks thought leadership fits into an overall SEO strategy, to which he replied – “Being a thought leader indirectly helps with SEO in a few ways. First, it can land you more link opportunities (like podcast interviews, guest posts, speaking gigs, etc.). Secondly, it makes you and your brand more recognizable, which can boost your organic click-through rate.”

When you think about the tedious task of producing lots of content, and you want to ensure it’s valuable to your target audience, Dean says “Scaling up content is tough. Especially if you want to be valuable. One thing I’ve been doing a lot lately is curating data from different places. That way, you don’t need to write 100% original content. You’re pulling data from different sources in one place. It’s still valuable, but it’s easier to pull off.”

An important aspect to content creation that you need to consider is the ideation process, coming up with topics that are emerging and trend well. Dean recommends Exploding Topics for identifying trending topics.

But what is the biggest mistake you can make with your SEO strategy in your journey to thought leadership? Dean says “The #1 mistake I see is relying too much on a personal brand/fame. Being recognized as a thought leader can help your SEO a lot, but you still need to have the foundation in place (technical SEO, keyword research, etc.)” Having a solid blog and ensuring that you take the right steps in creating SEO strategies is vastly important (we’ve done a great job of explaining it here).

We look towards experts like Dean that have a vast knowledge of a specific niche industry and that person becomes our trusted Sherpa or “thought leader.” So what characteristics are associated with a thought leader?

  • Authority and trust from the masses
  • They will have a vast blog on almost every topic within their niche
  • An ability to appear all over the media


Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, appeared to be the guy to follow for all things content marketing, while Social Media Examiner was (and still is) the most reliable source for developments in social media (brands can be thought leaders just as easily as individuals).

What are your go-to sources for news and opinions in your niche?

Thought Leaders vs. Influencers

It would be wrong to publish a detailed definition of thought leaders without comparing them favourably to one of the biggest online trends of the last few years: social media  ‘influencers’.

While this buzzword has many definitions, it’s the stereotypical YouTuber or reality television star with millions of social media followers that has caught the attention of brands in recent times.

While these ‘celebrities’ may have fantastic reach, they don’t necessarily need expertise.

Thought Leader vs Influencer

Thought leaders might not have the audience that Kylie Jenner has cultivated, but they’ve certainly developed an expertise in their chosen niche. Elinor Cohen, founder of The Engagement Strategy Group, hit the nail on the head in a popular Medium post explaining why brands should engage with thought leaders instead of influencers. She says:

“While influencers are about follower numbers, thought leaders are about expertise and knowledge. Thought leaders are people who care about their niche and industry enough to invest time and money in becoming experts. “They work in the industry, they learn all the time, they make it a point to generate quality and authentic content, not for their own profit or someone else’s profit, but for the purpose of educating others about something they’re passionate about”.

How to Become a Thought Leader?

The first thing a thought leader needs is a niche. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything, you need to find your niche and key target audience. The more detailed your niche is, the easier it is to become a thought leader and the less competition you’ll have to be crowned the go-to source for information. Just as businesses need to create a unique brand in order to succeed, thought leaders should do the same.

Elijah Masek-Kelly, President of, explains: “You need to hone in on your niche, develop yourself as an authority in the space and build clout. That way, your target audience will see you as the to-go person for niche information or whenever a problem arises. The big bonus here is that it will help you rank better in SEO and places you as a thought leader in the market.”

A common mistake that a lot of social media users make is posting about too many things. If you use your social media to concentrate on two or three topics maximum and serve them better than anyone else, people will have a clearer idea of what you have to offer and will be more likely to follow you, especially if they have a keen interest in these subjects. In order to be deemed a thought leader, it’s necessary to address all of the major issues within your niche. It’s not just a case of sharing relevant articles. It also involves stating your opinion on these developments, either via social media or blog posts. Thought leaders tend to make bold predictions on the future of their niche, as well as sharing tips on how to succeed. These tips are typically based on what they did to succeed within their niche. It’s hard to take anyone seriously as a thought leader if they haven’t achieved success themselves. Another defining characteristic of thought leaders is that they seem to be EVERYWHERE. They’re not only active on all social media channels, but they’re being chased for quotes all over the media. In the next section of this guide, we’ll explore how you too can be EVERYWHERE.


Social media The first step to gaining the presence of a thought leader is ensuring you’re signed up to all of the major social media networks. You don’t necessarily need to be active on all of them, only the networks where your target audience is most active. Still, it’s worth grabbing your brand’s URL on plenty of social media networks in case they blow up in the future. For less important social media networks, consider using automation tools that syndicate all your posts from one website onto another. Hootsuite is a great tool for social media automation. With each network you sign up to, ensure your profile photo, cover image and biography remain consistent.

Neil Patel, a New York Times bestselling author and leading Digital Marketer, explains: “If your social media profiles are consistent across different channels, then your visitors will form positive associations. They’ll know what to expect no matter the social network.”

Seeing the same imagery and biography across a number of different online platforms will help people remember your identity each time they spot you, reinforcing your reputation as a thought leader in their minds.

Ideally, you’ll be able to publish unique content across all of the social networks you deem as important. Promotional content won’t boost your reputation as a thought leader, so focus on creating value for your followers. This content could include commentary on industry issues, predictions of future trends and tips to people who are interested in your niche. This type of content will boost your follower count and your reputation as an industry expert, which will lead to more sales in the long run.


An email list is an essential tool to accompany a strong social media presence. According to Mailchimp, the average email open rate is between 20% and 22%, depending on company size. The click-through rate is between 2.4% and 2.9%. In comparison, the average Facebook Page post reach is 5.2% and the half-life of the average tweet is 20 minutes.

Email has historically been the platform which people use for purchases and business transactions. What’s more, your email list belongs to you. There’s no middle man with an algorithm that decides how many of your subscribers should view your content. Your message sits in the recipient’s inbox until it’s dealt with. Tim Grahl, founder of, says that email marketing is 100 times more effective for authors than social media.

Most professional bloggers will incentivise readers to join their email list by offering a free gift, such as an e-book or video course. Stuart McKeown, the founder of and arguably the thought leader in the niche of email list-building, has some great tips to help you build yours, plus here’s some great tips for creating email copy that converts from Sharon Hurley Hall.

Third-party mentions

Having your opinion quoted by a third party is a powerful way to boost your reputation as a thought leader. By including your quote in their article, the author is essentially telling his audience that your opinion is worth listening to.

The presence-boosting tasks mentioned above should result in more bloggers and journalists reaching out to you for quotes organically. Posting highly-quotable 10x content is another effective way to get your name out there, as other bloggers in your niche will inevitably cite it within their own research. It’s also possible to proactively seek opportunities to share your opinions in the media. Wondering how to get press this way?  Help A Reporter Out is a great website to help you, or if you’re really serious about generating media opportunities, you could outsource this task to an established PR company.

A step-up from having your quote shared by a third-party is having an entire article published on its website. This is called guest posting (or sponsored posting, if you pay for it). Again, this serves as a recommendation from the publisher that you’re an expert source. You’ll usually be able to add a link back to your website within a guest post, which will serve to boost your online audience and your SEO. For this reason, most professional bloggers take guest posting very seriously. Many will hire a team of ghostwriters to ensure they get their face in as many third-party blogs as possible.

Becoming a Thought Leader is Now Within your Reach!

Everyone thinks you have to be crowned as an ‘expert’ before they can start behaving like a thought leader. In reality, it’s the other way around. If you can share opinions consistently, spread your name as widely as possible and show evidence of success within your niche, you’ll slowly begin to attract an audience who’ll be inspired by what you have to say. It’s not an overnight process and there’s not a specific day where you’re bestowed the ‘thought leader’, but if you show you can perform the tasks listed above every day, you’ll gain more of the respect, trust, and attention that’ll work wonders for your personal brand. Of course, this journey to becoming the expert voice in your industry can be made quicker and easier with an experienced team of content writers at your side. Learn more about how can help you become a thought leader in your industry. 

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